Pin It

Couch Surfing: A devotee of a new kind of retail therapy 

click to enlarge couch.jpg

My daughter and I found the perfect sofa on the way to school today. It was just the size and color I was looking to add to the living room. Unfortunately, someone had dumped it upside down in the mud of my neighbor's front yard. Apparently it took too much energy to have a garage sale or haul it to the Salvation Army, or even to leave it on the curb with a "FREE" sign. Apparently this person was also unaware of the unwritten code in the nearby student condos: If it is still relatively clean and usable, place it beside a Dumpster. Then anyone can take it.

On my daily walk I've picked up shelves, chairs, lumber, wine glasses, even mattresses and a sturdy bed-frame this way. I've found barely used snow pants and coats and given them to my neighbor's granddaughters, though I don't volunteer where I got them. I also bring aluminum cans to the man with a faded goatee wearing round glasses who routinely climbs inside the dumpsters.

"I'm working on my four millionth can," he bragged when I finally spoke to him. One year, he said, he earned $60,000 by gleaning. "The college students throw stuff out when they move in, and again when they move out," he said.

I come by my dumpster fascination naturally. Whenever I took my young kids to visit my parents, we always arrived to see a display of stuffed toys. Mom admitted she got them from the neighborhood dumpster.

"They're perfectly good," she insisted. I wasn't happy about it, because she never washed them first, but no one ever got sick.

My mother grew up during the depression and was a country kid besides. She was handed a double-whammy of frugality from birth. But as a child, I resented feeling like a second-class citizen because my clothes were practical and my bicycle ancient. All through high school we argued about style versus cost. She couldn't understand my desperate need for a striped surfer shirt, and I couldn't explain it in her terms. Her biggest thrill was to run out of aluminum foil at Thanksgiving, and, with all the local stores closed, save the day with a patchwork of used foil.

After my father died, my mother began cleaning the 40-plus years of accumulation from the house. First, she made us go through everything and take anything we wanted. Then she began having garage sales of books, old clothes and generally useless things from the back of upper shelves. She was particularly pleased with her "Free Box."

"You just never know what people will want," she crowed. She even donated the old VW to charity, though she cried when they hauled it off. But the stuff she couldn't give away - and there was lots of that - she kept.

Over time, and particularly when I became a single mom, I found myself gravitating towards secondhand stores and reveling in my own deals. After a while, even secondhand prices seemed high. That's when I discovered the dumpsters. It felt smart when I dove in it and it wasn't as smelly as it sounds - and I never collected stuffed toys.

My children wore used clothes until they were old enough to know the difference. Then if they asked for new they got it, but they didn't always ask. My son is not a shopper anyway, but my daughter truly is. She discovered early that she can get more stuff for the same money at the Salvation Army, and we both love the $200 dollar dollhouse we got for only $15.

She also likes going through her things and giving them to the three little girls down the street. Out with the old means in with the new, and the little neighbors always scream with glee when they see us coming. One day I saw my daughter's beloved pink cowboy boots set neatly together near the neighbor's tire swing. Though I felt a little sad that they were gone, I was glad someone new could love them, too.

Recently my mom visited us after one of these cleansings, and my daughter gave a tour of her newly organized bedroom. It featured shelves with multi-colored bins to contain her stuff, and a comfy doublewide armchair for reading and cats.

"What a nice chair," I overheard my mother comment.

"We got it from the dumpster," my daughter said, without a hint of shame. My mother didn't miss a beat. "Good," she said.

Joann Wilke is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She writes in Bozeman, Montana.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in News Features

  • Breaking the Broken Resolutions Cycle

    Local Fitness Professionals and Their Clients Share Their Secrets to Success
    • Jan 18, 2017
  • Shining Bright

    Bend has a lot of solar power in its future, but not everyone is happy about it
    • Jan 11, 2017
  • Eclipse Chasers

    The Biggest Event of the Year: Why, Where and How to Watch the Great American Eclipse
    • Jan 4, 2017
  • More »

More by Source Weekly

  • Picks 10/12-10/19

    • Oct 12, 2016

    We recently visited Bend for the Film Festival and very much enjoyed ourselves, with one small exception. We parked our Ford in the public parking structure, only to find when we returned on Friday night that it had been spat upon, apparently in retribution for our Obama 2012 bumper sticker. I understand that whoever did this was passionate about politics, something I have always shared.
    • Nov 7, 2012

    After living in Bend for a year and a half, I recently stopped through on business. I love the town, the people, and all the outdoor beauty the area offers. One of my favorite things about Bend is without question, The Source. From the first time I read it, I knew it would be a cover-to-cover great time for me to enjoy all the stories, community news, the updates on all the music and arts, presentations, and great things goings on around town.
    • Nov 7, 2012
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Fixing Our Schools

    The Oregon PTA calls for the State to address billions in overdue repairs—but where's the money coming from?
    • Sep 7, 2016
  • North America's Oldest Evidence of Man?

    Dig uncovers treasures that could be the oldest in the Western Hemisphere
    • Sep 14, 2016

© 2017 LAY IT OUT INC | 704 NW GEORGIA, BEND, OREGON 97703  |   Privacy Policy

Website powered by Foundation